What to do if you’re worried about quiet quitters

The solution to a disengaged workforce is building a culture that people want to be part of, says Graham Millar

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Despite the clouds forming over the economic horizon, the jobs market is still heavily tilted in candidates’ favour. Unemployment in the UK has fallen to a 50-year low of 3.5 per cent, and a recent KPMG and Recruitment & Employment Confederation report found that agencies are continuing to struggle with labour shortages.

One of the more curious consequences of the current state of play, combined with the shift in attitudes that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been the rise of so-called ‘quiet quitting’. For those who don’t know, this essentially means working to rule, doing only what is set out in your contract. The trend follows hot on the heels of the ‘Great Resignation’ where, en masse, staff across the UK and elsewhere voluntarily resigned from their jobs, in many cases without an alternative in place. With good staff so hard to attract and retain, it leaves employers in a tricky situation.

At its core, quiet quitting is largely about the fact that many people discovered they liked having a better work-life balance during the pandemic. Many employees have since re-evaluated their priorities with greater consideration being paid to how work impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. Whether you agree with the trend or not, employers can either lean into these attitudes to make themselves stand out or challenge these attitudes among their staff.

Offering staff more time off in various forms would be the obvious starting point – in turn, that should make them feel more valued and engaged when they are at work. Mini-sabbaticals, where people can take extended periods of time off and still have a job to return to, are one option. So too is more paid or unpaid time off – giving staff time to do voluntary work or pursue a passion.

Similarly, time off in lieu, flexi-time, or half-day Fridays are alternative ways of giving staff the work-life balance they want without having to break the bank. Unlimited annual leave has become a favourite for companies – but it is a double-edged sword, with many reports suggesting it means people feel like they are judged for taking any time off.

At an even more basic level, employers could be more proactive in encouraging staff to take the holidays they are given. So many people build up their holidays throughout the year and realise they have 15 days to take by the time it’s December and end up losing their entitlement.

Businesses could also consider increased training for senior staff members to recognise and support employees struggling with their mental health or burnout. Implementing wellbeing policies or creating support networks that allow employees to share their problems and manage their wellbeing may also help in safeguarding against disenchantment.

For employers that prefer the stick over the carrot, in truth there is little you can do from a legal standpoint to make people work more than what their contracts demand of them. Ultimately, they are doing nothing wrong – and employment law only jumps in if either an employer or employee does something they shouldn’t have.

One course of action, however, could be a contractual expectation that staff are available for overtime, whether it is paid or not. Most people working in professional services will find a stipulation that they have to work additional hours as necessary for their business.

Another route could be more formal performance management procedures. If productivity or output is reasonably measurable within your organisation, you can set expectations for the level required of staff – whether it is phone calls, manufacturing output or another metric.

There are no easy options for employers in the current market. But, regardless of whether you want to challenge quiet quitting, reward it or even just recognise it as a phenomenon, it is up to you to create the culture that produces that end.

Graham Millar is an employment law partner at Gilson Gray